Friday, January 31, 2014

"The Legitimacy Principle" as outlined by Malcolm Gladwell and some results of both its application and the failure to apply it

In his insightful and provocative book, David And Goliath, Malcolm Gladwell writes compellingly about the "principle of legitimacy".
When people in authority want the rest of us to behave, it  matters-- first and foremost--how they behave. This is called the "principle of legitimacy," and legitimacy is based on three things. First of all, the people who are asked to obey authority have to feel like they have a voice--that if they speak up, they will be heard. Second, the law has to be predictable. There has to be a reasonable expectation that the rules tomorrow are going to be roughly the same as the rules today. And third, the authority has to be fair. It can't treat one group differently from another. (Malcolm Gladwell, David and Goliath, Little Brown and Company, 2013, p 207-8)
In his notes, Gladwell documents the sources of the principle:
The principle of legitimacy has been articulated by a number of scholars but three deserve special mention: Tom Tyler, author of Why People Obey the Law, (Princeton University Press, 2006); David Kennedy, author of Deterence and Crime Prevention (Routledge, 2008); and Lawrence Sherman, coeditor of Evidence-Based Crime Prevention (Routledge 2006). (ibid. p. 291)
Stories about classrooms in which the teacher is committed to rules, without actually seeing or listening to the students, and projects to reduce criminal behaviour in the eastern part of Brooklyn's Brownsville, demonstrate the polar ends of a continuum. In the classroom story, the rules mattered much more than the kids; the teacher's maintenance of "control" clearly trumped her interest in and dedication to providing a stimulating learning environment. However, in the Brownville story, a large female police woman named Joanne Jaffe, head of the city's Housing Bureau, decided that getting to know the persons on a list of 106 repeat juvenile offenders, their families and their unique and desperately poverty, including monitoring their every movement including their contacts, the subway trains they ride, the shops they visit would, (and did!) go a very long way to dramatically reducing recidivism. She even asked for and was given some $2000 in cash to purchase turkeys, (and later Christmas toys), and deliver them to the homes of these repeat offenders for Thanksgiving, as part of the process of re-building trust among the people in those homes, whose only encounter with law enforcement had previously been negative, and vengeful.
Another demonstration of the failure to apply the principle of legitimacy comes out of the role played by the British military in attempting to quell the "troubles" in Northern Ireland, in the late 1970's, when they arbitrarily shot Catholics, removed them from their homes and irreverently and unabashedly took over those same homes in a shameful demonstration or arrogance, unfairness and
the abuse of power.
Over the years, I have had many occasions to experience the abuse of power, at home, in the schoolyard, and in the many churches with which I came into contact. In other spaces here I have written about the home situation.
Here I wish to document some of the arbitrary power I have witnessed and experienced, that excludes the voices of those who are expected to "obey" ecclesial authorities. Serving in situations in which my assignment came without necessary and obvious support from the church hierarchy, I found that rules and expectations were "divined" by those who could, without regard even to a knowledge of the principles of legitimacy, never mind their application. In one instance, I was driven three hours to an "accountability session" in my faculty advisor's office, because an interim clergy wanted to wield excessive and abusive power over a mere newbie for having taken refuge in a small office in the territory in which the interim was then serving, because I had not asked for permission to rent that office. My reason for having secured the office was to protect my own sanity, given my knowledge and experience with the unsettled nature of the conditions in my assignment, of which the interim knew nothing and cared even less. At the "accountability session," although I had received written confirmation from the bishop of his intention to ordain me, that commitment was cancelled by that same bishop, arbitrarily and without my having any opportunity to present my side of the story, at which moment I slammed my fist into the table in front of me, and shouted, "You sonofabitch! I do not even know if I want to have anything to do with this organization ever again! I will need at least a month to reconsider my position." Letting my voice be heard was the last thing on the mind of those present: the bishop, the interim, the faculty advisor. There were no notes or transcripts of the meeting, and I recall quite literally shouting venom at the driver (the interim) on the return trip a full three hours.
The diocese and bishop did not consider it important enough to provide a single piece of information about the conditions in the first assignment to facilitate the assumption of that assignment, and effectively "threw me into the deep end of the pool" without any support, guidance or reprieve.
Prior to this kangaroo-court of the accountability session, and prior to this first assignment, I had formally requested a posting as a deacon under the supervision of an experienced clergy, in the parish to which I had been assigned as a summer intern. I had learned from an elderly clergy familiar with various funding sources in the diocese that funds were available for such appointments. My request was summarily denied, again without an opportunity to present my case.
Funerals of "important figures" were summarily taken out of my hands, by the presiding archdeacon, who then invited the former clergy to return to participate, without so much as a by-the-way of informing me of the decision. Of course, I was expected to do the leg work of providing the bulletins for the service, while being officially and unprofessionally excluded from participating.
Threats from conservative, evangelical parishoners, with big cheque books and prominence in the community, demanding my removal for preaching liberal "heretical" homilies (their choice of words) were given a deaf ear, when presented to the diocesan hierarchy in search of some support.
The residence in which I was told to live was eventually broken into by parishoners, while I was away, and once again, there was not a single word of support about how to deal with the situation, or how they would provide some guidance and counsel. (A similar event occurred with the clergy who followed my departure, upon which event she withdrew her services, something I clearly would do if I were to face a similar situation again.)
Another kangaroo court occurred in a subsequent appointment where I served as an honorary assistant. I had asked for a small stipend sufficient to cover travel from my residence approximately 50 miles from the church, knowing that the parish had a trust fund of at least half a million dollars, and also that the previous "honorary," a plastic surgeon who made big  bucks, had returned the honorarium because he did not "need" it. In the process of attempting to decide about the small stipend, the presiding clergy, for whom I had substituted while she attending the United Nations Conference on Women in Bejing, was told in a unsolicited phone call from a parishioner (about which I knew nothing) that I was a leader and she was which point she summoned a secret kangaroo court of some fourteen members, including herself, (to which I was not invited, nor about which even informed officially), a vote to retain my services was held, and reports of the vote from persons present ran 9- affirmative, 3 abstentions, and 1 or 2 negative. Nevertheless, I was never assigned work in that parish again, and after several months, upon inquiry of the then bishop as to the reasons, his only reply was, "Chemistry!" and the subject was dropped. Another report of my indiscretion involved a homily, in her absence, in the August of 1995, just following the election of Mike Harris' conservative government in Ontario. In the press, the week of one specific homily, reports indicated that Harris intended to cut funding from Wheeltrans, the transportation system in Toronto on which the disabled depended for access to their lives, their employment and their education and health care. In my homily, I spoke these words, "Someone has to stop this man from making these cuts, because these people need those services!" On her return, the presiding clergy was informed, "We can't have him saying negative things about the new premier whom we have just elected!" I would have to suspect that this encounter played a role in her  secret kangaroo court decision, both to conduct it and to keep the results secret.
In a different situation, in the United States, I was again placed in an untenable situation, for which the church officials had been unable to find a person willing to serve after two years of unsuccessful advertising. I did not know about the advertising campaign, and was never told, prior to my engagement with the diocese. Once again, there was legitimate and abundant debate about whether the mission was "recoverable" given its deplorable history of having been on life-support. The interim who had served, intermittently, advised me directly, "You will need a completely new cast of characters, if you are to succeed here!" Seeing the rather monumental challenge, I did not see the iron-fisted resistance to change, especially change initiated by an "alien" from Canada, in a region of the country mired in the past, in rampant racism and a frontier mentality. Once again, I was given not a single word of orientation, nor, upon my desperate request for removal nearly three years into the appointment, was there any move of support. When I attempted to extricate myself from the situation, through applications both inside and outside the state, I was met with first, a parish seeking only a female candidate, and second a corporate charismatic parish "heavy-weight" who, speaking as a friend of the bishop, informed me that he was proud of having driven the last priest out "because he was not spiritual enough, and you're not either".
Seeking counsel and support during the nearly forty months of that appointment, through invitations extended to clergy from across the diocese, in exchange for the similar opportunity to share pulpits without a single taker, through submissions of my development as part of a training program for rural clergy, only to have my report judged as "sucking up to the canon" by the supervising Dean, and through what amounted to a formal "betrayal and set-up" by that canon who asked me to visit with him and the bishop and tell my story, "because I have tried to get him to hear me for nine years without success," turned askew. The bishop, in the middle of the meeting which he thought and believed I had called, (the canon did not have the guts to inform him that it was HIS request!) upon listening to my request for community, in these words, "I picture myself sitting in a small boat, attempting to tend the rudder while a few people, each with different "oars"- a golf club, a baseball bat, a branch of a tree, a piece of metal flayed out of sync at the water resulting in the little boat (the mission for which I was responsible) simply turning around and around without achieving a single common goal, and when I look at the diocese from the four hours away, I see the same thing happening here"....responded, "All these poetic words, and what it is that you want from me?"
He unfortunately was unable, or unwilling to hear what it was I was attempting to communicate...that the building of a community required leadership, some model to follow and some commitment to such a process.
When that bishop delivered his "convention charge" to the diocese outlining growth targets of 15% more dollars and 10% more people in the pews, I knew then that my respect for and commitment to that organization had fallen off the rails, and I also knew that I had and would never have any voice in the meetings that mattered in that organization. The pursuit of numbers of both memberships and dollars were the driving principle of that part of the organization, and that was not what I had signed up for, nor would it be today.
In one of our last meetings, when I invited that bishop both to read Matthew Fox and to consider the proposition  that men needed to get in touch with their feelings, he screamed at me, "That must not happen; it is far too dangerous!"
His voice could  be heard at least a block from the diocesan office, and continues to ring in my ears to this day!!
Sadly! and unfortunately, witnessing the total absence on the legitimacy principles!
Perhaps it is not hard to see how I might have become a disobedient participant in such an organization. When the leadership on both sides of the 49th parallel behaves in a non-supportive  and extemporaneous and unpredictable  manner, what else can one expect?

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Hollow surprises may be cunning political theatre, but certainly not leadership or gravitas

Back in the mid-to late twentieth century, an orchestra and chorus under the direction of Ray Coniff produced an upbeat version of the song, "It's the Talk of the Town". Although the song was written in the 1930's, and describes the sadness one whose love has gone, it is nevertheless a fitting theme for yesterday's announcement from the Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, "There are no more Liberal Senators." His announcement generated all the "buzz" in Ottawa, both for its surprise value and for its apparent boldness.
His announcement "frees" the Senators who were appointed by liberal prime ministers, because of their loyalty to the party as bagmen, campaign strategists or whatever, will no longer meet in caucus with the elected Liberal members of the House of Commons and will not be under the thought control of the Liberal Party leader. If elected Prime Minister in 2015, Trudeau says he will appoint an independent committee to nominate "worthy" candidates, without party affiliation to the "senior" body in the bi-cameral legislature. Many consider the Senate an appendage, a relict from a former time, that has grown both redundant and in need of reform. The NDP wants it abolished; the Conservatives want it to be elected with term limits. Originally, it was intended to provide a sober second thought on legislation passed by the House of Commons, by representatives from each province, giving all regions representation.
National Affairs reporter Chris Hall, of the CBC put it this way, on the CBC website.
The Liberal leader sent jaws dropping and tongues wagging across Ottawa when he hoofed all 32 Liberal senators out of his caucus without notice, and promised a new, more transparent process for choosing members of the Red Chamber if he becomes prime minister.
As a political gambit, it was a corker. The proposals dominated political talk shows. Trudeau forced the other party leaders to respond to him.
In the process he repositioned himself and the Liberals from defenders of an institution discredited by scandal, to proponents of changes intended to make the Senate more effective, less partisan and ultimately less reviled. (By Chris Hall, CBC website, January 30, 2014)
However, while it may have been effective political theatre, it does not carry any significance except perhaps symbolically. Trudeau needed an announcement that would help to define his leadership; he needed to come out of the weeds on the Senate issue, given Canadians' disgust with the spending scandal stories of 2013; he needed to 'get out front' of the imminent Auditor General's report that could find some of the former Liberal Senators guilty of mis-management of their spending of public funds.
Nevertheless, the announcement says more about Trudeau than it does about the Senate...more about politics and public images, than about how legislation is either researched, drafted or brought into law. Striving for public profile, the sine qua non of any aspiring politician, while necessary can take a million different paths. One can write a serious policy, history or even a biographic portrait; or one can actually accomplish something worthy of the public interest, like a campaign to raise funds for cancer, by running across the country on one leg, as did Terry Fox back in 1981. Or one can teach at a university, having obtained graduate recognition for academic achievement; or one could practice law, and participate in significant legal cases,  building a portfolio of both accomplishments and reputation on which to mount a campaign for public office.
Unfortunately, Justin Trudeau has done none of these normal apprenticeships. He is merely the eldest son of a former prime minister whose gravitas, and intellectual grasp of the many issues, makes this announcement pale in comparison. In fact, this announcement, even with the political banter it generated, will turn out to be reminiscent of Chinese food in the stomach of a hungry person in a restaurant...relatively pleasant to the taste, leaving one feeling hungry only moments after the meal.
A little bit of political sugar, or mascara, or theatre...does not a political leader make.
Unless, that is, the people of the country have become so ready to throw garlands around the neck of what is really another 'rock-star' image-building strategy and the process of politics in Canada has become so bereft of public confidence and public embrace that mere empty rhetorical announcements, delivered as a surprise without prior warning even to the Senators themselves, qualifies as the new definition of "leadership".
And if that is the case, the country is in worse shape that many thought. And the election of 2015 will be just another act in a long-running piece of theatre that if it had to sell seats, and face artistic criticism as public theatre must, would have "closed" forever long ago.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Snowden nominated for Nobel Peace Prize....really

On the day when Obama delivered his fifth State of the Union address to Congress, and when in Canada, Bell Canada sponsors a "let's talk" day raising money for and attempting to bring mental illness out of the closet and reduce its stigma, we learn that two Norwegian lawmakers have nominated Edward Snowden for the Nobel Peace Prize. (See story by The Associated Press, from CTV  website, January 29, 2014, below)
Whether or not Snowden actually received the august award, the very fact that his name has been submitted in nomination, as a person who has significantly contributed to a "more stable and peaceful world order" will once again demonstrate the deep divide between U.S. official opinion and opinion in other quarters around the world.
Eric Holder, Attorney General for the U.S., has recently indicated that should Snowden return to the U.S. and acknowledge that he has broken the law, and paid for his crime, some kind of deal might be able to be worked out. Snowden, on the other hand, has consistently maintained that he believes he would never get a fair trial in his home country. A university in Scotland may be about to offer him a position teaching in their institution, another political "finger-in-the-eye" of the U.S. reputation, at a time when over-reach by the NSA has become not only a significant issue needing scale-back, in order to better balance individual privacy with national security, but has also demonstrated the United States official addiction to hard power, in its latest edition, technology of the most sophisticated kind.
It was Winston Churchill who commented, not so incidentally, that the United States would always do the right thing, after it had attempted all other options.
Seeing itself as a country that over-compensates, and over-reaches in its pursuit of military hardware and technological advantages over all other countries and corporations, unless they are U.S.-based, as the country that must be "number one" in order to maintain its self-respect, incarnates one of the core realities of a male dominated culture. Domination, winning, being first, being the world's policeman, the world's moral and legal and military a very lonely and ultimately unsustainable position on top of the pedestal of political theatre. It is also the position to which too many Americans aspire, historically all men, and more recently men and women, in a feverish determination to "succeed".
Whistle-blowers, while legally given a modicum of "cover" are nevertheless persona non grata, given the blow to the national reputation that one like Edward Snowden has inflicted. It is hubris and denial that brings the U.S. public opinion to the place where they can see only a "traitor" another of the more prominent archetypes in American history, when they see or think of Snowden.
It will likely take decades, perhaps longer than Snowden's life, for the U.S. to come to the position that Snowden is indeed a patriot, and should he win the Nobel Peace Prize, he would become a member of a club that includes Presidents Obama and Carter, as well many other American luminaries.
Exposing the dark side of American culture, thought, belief system while poking a finger in the eye of the behemoth of history, is not something that the giant takes gracefully. If and when that day comes, the world will indeed be a much more sable and secure place for our grandchildren.
We congratulate the two Norwegian lawmakers who have courageously made this nomination and will watch with interest to see the decision of the panel making the awards.

By The Associated Press, from CTVwebsite, January 29, 2014
STAVANGER, Norway -- Two Norwegian lawmakers say they have jointly nominated former NSA contractor Edward Snowden for the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize.
Socialist lawmakers Baard Vegard Solhjell, a former environment minister, and Snorre Valen said Wednesday the public debate and policy changes "in the wake of Snowden's whistleblowing has contributed to a more stable and peaceful world order."
Being nominated just means Snowden will be one of scores of names that the Nobel committee will consider for the prestigious award.
Nominators, including members of national parliaments and governments, university professors and previous laureates, must enter their submissions by Feb. 1.
The prize committee members can add their own candidates at their first meeting after that deadline.
Read more:

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Dichotomies and their reductions...can we re-mythologize?

Jay Parini, in his recent book, Jesus, the Face of God, seeks to re-mythologize Jesus, following decades of scholarship that has sought to de-mythologize Jesus, through history, through anthropology and linguistics and a rather profound process of deconstruction.
It was Graeme Green who responded to a question from a grade twelve student in a Canadian Writer's Day forum who asked, "What do you think about the process of taking a poem apart as a way to study it?..."Well, you have to murder something in order to dissect it?"
It was a diminutive nun, speaking extemporaneously in a Family Violence workshop who uttered these words, "The  greatest violence we do to each other is contained in the reductions we impose on each other."
Women have for nearly a half century been wailing about how men "objectify" them, by acting as if they cannot see past their physical persons. Recently, the inevitable echo has been creeping out of the men's corner, also complaining about objectification by women, primarily into the role of cheque-writer, provider, without the accompanying "full recognition" of the complexities of our masculinities.
I once asked a bishop to describe the spirituality of a serving warden in a church to which I was about to be assigned, as a student intern, and was going to a breakfast to meet the warden. His reply, in one word, was "Red Book"...and in the Anglican tradition that is code for "traditional, and supportive of a theology that emphasizes the sin and depravity of humans through both prayer and liturgy, as compared with a different emphasis in the "Green Book," the more modern edition of prayers and liturgies, over which hours if not days, weeks, even months and years of time have been wasted in the Anglican tradition in Canada, over how to worship God. Not only were Anglicans skilled in dividing themselves and their fellow pew-sitters into 'high church' and 'low church' (more code for more and less "bells and whistles" respectively in the liturgies) but also into "liberal and evangelical", but into Red and Green Book Anglicans....
The problem with dichotomies, "either-or's," is that individual people do not fit entirely into the categories to which others assign them, and that by over-simplifying for the purposes of making sense and of managing differences, we "pigeon-hole" people, and institutions, as well as neighbourhoods, schools, towns, cities and even nations and ethnicities into such cardboard stereotypes that we suck the life-blood, their complexity and their eccentricity and their uniqueness and even their 'right' to be who they are, especially if we do not see 'eye-to-eye' with them.
Our public discourse, commonly referred to as political punditry, and commonly gathered from sources like television, newspapers, magazines and social media, is broken down into some easily grasped dichotomies, right versus left, corporate versus socialist, worker versus employer, Canadian versus American, American versus Chinese, radical versus moderate, Sunni versus Shia, Russian versus Ukrainian, Afghan versus NATO. Our political parties, and the economic world view of our parties is another of the dichotomies into which we "de-mythologize" their positions, into such phrases as higher taxes (NDP) and more jobs (Conservatives) and balanced approach (Liberal) as if to make such distinctions is to provide the electorate with signals for identification, for the purpose of casting a ballot, and for the political class to be armed with "conventional" talking points that, once again reduce all issues to debating points, for the purpose of ultimately gaining power, and implementing that cardboard agenda, once again a reduction of what might be required, given the dynamic of changing circumstances.
One of the really dangerous dichotomies of discernment is that between mentally ill and not mentally ill, and given the multiple applications of dichotomies to all other aspects of modern life, in our adolescent and frighteningly lazy and immature pencil drawings, and lists of duties, chores and responsibilities we are dangerous vulnerable to adopting the vocabulary of the psychiatric profession and applying that vocabulary to individuals as if we were capable of discerning the full meaning and complexity of those "diagnoses" that might be found in the DSM-5. Furthermore, we reduce all psychiatric illness to a form of demonology, rendering a public fear unleashed with impunity, and thereby either hospitalize or medicate our illnesses, in order to manage our fears, more than to treat the person who suffers from whatever illness.
Aristotle was insightful in finding and naming family, phylum and species...of plants and animals, for the purpose of what has become centuries of scientific study. Similarly, Freud and Jung were brilliant in their pursuit of the unconscious, as a primary motivating force in the lives of individuals, and even of communities. However, Freud and Jung did not agree on the role of sexuality in the human psyche, and ultimately neither could prove the other wrong.
Nevertheless, in spite of the libraries filled with definitions that attempt to discern nuances of difference between species, and ethnicities and cultures and anthropologies and theologies, and ideologies, we are in danger of worshipping at an altar that can and will only divide and not unite in common purpose. Intellectually nuanced and highly articulate debates over how many angels one can place on the head of a pin were perhaps somewhat useful when we were sophomores. "Is God dead?", another simplistic dichotomy, makes a good cover story for Time, perhaps starts some people thinking about their relationship to a deity, and for such a limited purpose, perhaps has some limited value.
However, applying hard and distinct definitions to abstractions, in a compulsive attempt to gain control over those abstractions, is a fool's game of self-delusion. And when it becomes a mass-movement, mostly unconscious and mostly unchallenged, the participants run the serious risk of substituting delusion for reality. Some of us used to joke that, as Anglicans, we were very conscious that "in heaven, there was neither a red nor a green book"! For those who needed the protection of a label, our joke was quite uncomfortable.
However, it is not a joke to tell someone, anyone, "You are not spiritual enough!" when such a judgement is code for "not charismatic enough" or not "high church" enough, or "not evangelical enough" or not "obedient enough".....
Nor is it a joke to label another person "evil" or another nation or religion, "evil" simply because they do not subscribe to a similar set of tenets and dogma as the one subscribed to by the speaker.
Abortion is a case in point. There are good people on both sides of this festering debate, especially in the United States, given that most other countries have settled the issue, in so far as legislation and public debate are concerned. The Roman Catholic position is absolutely opposed, and those who frame the issue as a "woman's right to self-determination" are considered 'evil' in the light of the Roman Catholic position. The argument will not be put in that language. Those who campaign for the right to life will argue that it is not their opponent they wish to demonize, but their position which they oppose. They do not hate the sinner, but they hate the sin.
Is not "sin" another attempt to impose a hard, finite and thereby presumably enforceable definition on an abstraction? Is that not at the core of our criminal codes, that some behaviours are defined as wrong, in the hope that we will be able, as a society, to eliminate, or at least to control such behaviour in our attempt to provide peace, order and good government (words from the Canadian constitution) or the right to pursue prosperity, liberty and happiness (words from the U.S. Constitution)
What if those definitions of "crime" are nothing more than a limited attempt  to define, from a limited and frightened perspective, the root causes of those behaviours, using almost exclusively observable data, without actually taking into account a full disclosure and study of the human being? What if our laws, including our attitudes to mental illness, are nothing more than an overt expression of our fears of the unknown, and are so incomplete and so dangerous that they are counter-intuitive to our common goal of reducing their impact on our society?
What if, in our pursuit of perfection, as our misguided way to please God, we have over-reached in our generation of a civil society, and produced more repression and regression and more criminals and more criminal behaviour, as our way of sustaining the nobility who first wrote those laws and those conventions?
"Go and sin no more!" were the words ascribed to Jesus in his encounter with the prostitute.
How many gallons of ink, and eons of public debate have we held in our compulsive-obsessive pursuit of a society free of sexual misconduct, including 'the oldest profession'? Who do we think we are, that we would impose more embarrassment and more contempt and more judgement on the prostitute than was imposed by Jesus? And what God is it who demands such an attitude? And what heaven are we aspiring to enter by subscribing to such contempt of the other, whose behaviour and whose attitude may not agree with our personal code, but whose choices we know so little about, and are so resistant to actually listening to, that we might preserve our little comfortable bubble, outside the reality of that prostitute?
It was the Pharisees who questioned Jesus about the picking and eating corn on the "Sabbath" and were rebutted with, "Was the Sabbath not made for man, and not man for the Sabbath?"
In our narrow, frightened and judgemental pursuit of our own perfection, are we not in serious danger of over-subscribing and over-defining what and who God is and what a deity means to a human being?
What does it mean I have come that you might have life and have it more abundantly, if we are imposing our meagre and poverty-based, scarcity-engendered definitions of that life, as our way of making ourselves 'holy and pure'? What would happen, for example, if we were to re-write our psychiatric manuals and our criminal codes with a full recognition of, not merely the social need for moderation and propriety, but also for the fullest development of each individual in the most tolerant and supportive culture we can both imagine and create together? What would such a project do to those who attempt ultimate control? What would such a project do to those governments that reduce their responsibilities to the latest GDP numbers? What would such a project do to those churches who, by infantilizing their adherents, reduce the relationship of a human being to God to that of mere obedience to a code of conduct?
It might well be worth the serious consideration of those who reflect on such things, to consider such a proposition in the next century or five.

Monday, January 27, 2014

The Context of the State of the Union Address to Congress, tomorrow, January 28, 2014

Tomorrow night, January 28, 2014, President Obama will deliver his State of the Union address to the Congress. A guiding question for both speech-writers and legislators, not to mention voters in the mid-term election year is whether the speech will be remembered for its "small-ball" expectations, or whether, like last year, the president will attempt to hit a few home-runs.
Clearly, based on the Congressional collaboration of 2013 (non-existent) the home-run approach did not work. Immigration, climate change, infrastructure, tighter gun-control laws, the overhaul of the tax structure to claw back some of the inequities that have favoured the wealthy....none of these really found resonance among the obstructionist Tea Party. Since last year, however, the president has declared, " I have a pen and I have a phone and with the pen I can make executive orders and with the phone I can rally ordinary people around the country to lean on their congressional representatives."
Although the Congress reached an interim piece of legislation that would prevent a government shut-down because the government had run out of money, until fall of 2015, there is still outstanding the question of the debt ceiling, that anachronistic, and anal requirement on Congress to raise the debt ceiling, in order to pay the bills. Naturally, government costs continue to rise, just as do the costs of every other institution and family across the globe. Raising the level the government is permitted to borrow has been, and should return to being, a normal and non-negotiable piece of work for which the sitting administration ought not to be even asked, and certainly not expected to  "give something" in return to the Republicans for their agreement to do that bare minimum bill.
The president has demonstrated repeatedly his willingness to work with, to compromise, even to sacrifice some of his core principles, in order to get a piece of legislation that would be a step closer to that ideal he holds dearly, "a more perfect union"....He gave up the single-payer concept in order to achieve Obamacare (something we would guess he profoundly regrets now), two years after the bill became law, and the road-blocks, glitches and political opposition ranging from unworkable to outright socialist, continue to march along the headlines and through the corridors of power in Washington as well as in too many state legislatures.
All told, following the Supreme Court decision that permitted states to decide to expand Medicaid rather than forcing them into the overall plan, some 23 states in which Republic governors occupy the governor's mansion, have refused to expand Medicaid, even though the federal government will pay all the costs of that expansion for three years, and 90% of those costs in years following the first three. These governors are not only waging war with Obama and the Democrats, probably because they mistakenly consider their position "saleable" in the upcoming midterm elections, but they are also depriving millions of Americans who cannot afford to purchase Obamacare-sanctioned insurance and are falling through the cracks between the level of poverty (on a percentage basis) of their income and the floor at which the federal subsidies kick in to support their premium payments.
So even though the legislation is passed, and notwithstanding the Republican onslaught that seeks to abolish it, and the many glitches, the Obama administration will continue to have to defend the law, far into the end of the president's second term in 2016. Also, with only 3 million  enrollees, one half of the number projected to make the legislation affordable, based on the numbers of health young people who might enrol and thereby reduce premiums for older and less healthy citizens, the deficit in numbers of enrollees continue to plague a plan that was authentically designed to bring health care insurance to millions of Americans who previously had none. However, the bill did not and does not assure access to health care only insurance, for those who can afford to pay, and those whose employers continue to provide coverage, thereby avoiding the penalty, for individuals quite small but for corporations with more than 50 employees, quite steep, in the thousands annually.
Back to the "small-ball" versus "home-run" approach...given the current conditions in Congress where the president can count only on a micro-piecemeal approach, if votes are going to be bipartisan as they have to be in a Republican-controlled House of Representatives...
Immigration, that other elephant in the room, with some 11 million undocumented "aliens" living in the country, and a chasm between the reasonable approach of granting them a path to citizenship (Democratic) and sending them packing to their land of origin (Romney's position as the Republican candidate for the White House in 2012), is going to have to find what today looks like a bridge too far. The political wind, however, favours some acceptable compromise from both sides, if the Republican party is not going to continue to abandon the millions of Latino votes that have been going to the Democrats.
On climate change, the president and only some of his party support raising the bar on the control of emissions of carbon dioxide; nevertheless, the Republicans and too many southern democrats from the Bible belt, continue to deny the human impact on the environment, and frame the issue as those liberal intellectuals crying "Fire" in an already crowded theatre.
On restoring the middle class, where most of the underwater mortgages have occurred, and where most of the jobs have been lost, Obama will have reports like those from Maria Shriver and Oxfam, both released within the last two weeks, the former focussing on the impact of poverty on women, especially single women, with the latter focussing on the amount of wealth controlled by a very small number of individuals (85) that equals the amount of wealth controlled by 3 billion people, one half of the world's population.
Incubating billionaires is not the purpose of any economy, whether global or national. And Obama will also have the report of the World Economic Forum that points to the disparity in income as the greatest threat to world stability. That report also was released just last week. So there is a confluence of significant factors, reports, evidence and mounting political consciousness on this question of restoring the middle class. And while there is no single silver  bullet to level the playing-field, the president's address will beam into millions of homes, offices and both government and corporate board rooms around the globe, and one can only hope that the influential voices in academe, government, corporate and NGO's will converge in many quarters to bring the world's attention to this growing crisis...and the pace of its growth is clearly not incremental, but exponential.
Obama's address tomorrow, could well be the last one he will deliver that will be unencumbered by the beat of many campaign drums leading up to the presidential election in 2016. Consequently, it could be the last opportunity for the president to "set an agenda" on which his legacy might be evaluated, by those thousands of doctoral dissertations that will inevitably follow his presidency.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Reflections on re-visiting "Rebel without a Cause" the 1955 movie starring James Dean and Natalie Wood

My wife and I had the opportunity to 're-watch' the classic movie, starring James Dean and Natalie Wood, Rebel without a Cause, from 1955, last evening on PBS. Not only was the movie a devastating criticism of the parenting of the 1950's, with fathers and mothers fawning over their idol of public perfection in their children, but the men, especially the men/fathers were as Jim Stark (Dean's character) put it "mush" when confronting their wives.
I was raised in the "Stark" household, metaphorically speaking. Watching that father feverishly clean the mess he had made when he let the tray with his ill wife's food fall, so that his wife would not see what he had done, while his son Jim laughed at his foolishness and urged him to "let her see it," I was ashamed to think that that could have been my father. And, as for the pivotal question Jim asked his father early in the movie, while he contemplated his risk in showing up for the "duel" of stolen cars racing to the cliff overlooking the sea, "What should I do?" his father could summon only luke-warm and ineffectual words: "Let's get a paper, and list our options, and then find someone to give us advice."
I recall a conversation, on the back steps on our family home, in the summer of 1956, with my father about the terrible actions, words and attitudes that we were experiencing from my mother, including disdain for him, and physical and emotional abuse directed to me.
"What are we going to do about this woman?" I pleaded.
"I really don't know; I have tried everything I can think of  and nothing has worked so far; so I really don't know what to do," came his honest, if once again ineffectual response.
Were we to have that conversation today, I would be demanding that either he and I leave, unless and until the kind of "zoo" we were living in changed, or that I would be leaving alone. In the words of both Jim Stark echoed by his girlfriend, Judy, in the movie, " I am not going back into that zoo, ever!" (each referring to their family homes).
Trying in vain to "fit in" applied not only to the Jim Stark's of the movie; it applied to all of us, in our mid-teens in the fifties. And although our parents may not have moved from town to town, as part of their campaign to escape the embarrassment of their young son, they were nevertheless just as addicted to being seen as perfect parents with perfect kids.
"Be a good boy!" was the line that spurted out of my mother's mouth whenever I ventured into any social encounter. Dressed inappropriately in a sports jacket as Jim was for his first day at Dawson High, I was sent out to my first "teen-town dance" wearing a similar dress jacket only to find all the other males wearing t-shirts and/or light sweaters. The formality of my attire spoke volumes about the snobbery and the vacuity of my (and Jim's) parents and I could imagine his discomfort at wearing the weight of those expectations in the clothes he was "assigned." I recall having not enough courage, or spine to ask anyone to dance, but most likely told my mother that I had enjoyed myself on that hot August night with those clothes soaked in my perspiration.
"Be a good boy" now echoes in my head as the grating sound of a military commander, barked as if her reputation were intimately tied to my behaviour, my words and my attitudes, while her own responsibility for those features of her life were being drowned in her projections of her own perfect persona onto her only offspring.
Link "be a good boy" to "don't read, do something!" and "if you get the strap at school you will get it twice as hard at home" and "you're no good and you never will be any good" and you have a chorus for a daily, hourly chant from the female tyrant whose strode like a colossus over the micro-culture of our family home. To be sure, to counter her "dark side," she was literally in perpetual motion in her pursuit of work and potentially "redemption"(in the puritan perspective of idleness leading to temptation and evil), cleaning, sewing, decorating and redecorating, gardening, preserving, delivering food to grieving families, nursing, and talking to her one or two excess were all of these activities.
The excess of her criticisms, even  emotional floggings of the two men in her life, were, of course, never permitted to escape into the public domain; they were our family secret, and we knew unconsciously that if we were ever to break the code of silence that surrounded and enveloped our house and her reputation, they "all hell would break loose" even though we did not even speculate on what that would look like.
Feeling unworthy and unloved, like Jim Stark and to a lesser extent Judy, I too rebelled, only my turn came immediately following my first year in university, when I was eighteen, a little later than Stark's. My rebellion took the vocal formation, when I uttered the word to myself, "I am not doing this FOR HER (meaning going to university, and achieving grades that would make her proud) but rather I am no longer afraid of her and need to do things for myself and on my own."
It was that year(1960-61) that I became involved in student government, fraternity life and dating while enrolled in an honours program that required even more study time and concentration than my busy, over-consuming ambition-let-loose could  and did accommodate. The year came crashing in on me at the corner of Richmond and Central Avenues near midnight one snowy Sunday night in March of 1961, when the recently purchased Volkswagen I had purchased for a summer job selling nursery stock collided in the island-intersection with a northbound car coming up Richmond. I did not see his headlights if there were any, and the right front fender was crushed. Neither my friend nor I were injured, but my ability to concentrate in the final weeks prior to final exams was shattered.
Ambition to become a man and all that that entailed, and the need to be loved and accepted and even liked by a female partner have been two strands that have weaved a somewhat enmeshed tapestry of intersecting timelines for the last half century of my life.
Haunting both strands, however, was the "foundational" understanding and even belief that I was alone in those pursuits, without mentor, without anyone from whom to seek counsel, and without even the option of such a choice. And guarding that foundational belief, were models of "woman" and "man" of femininity and masculinity, both of which were caricatures of themselves and of each other. Her offense drowned or possibly trumped his, because he knew that  by becoming assertive he would be overruled and thereby would "lose" again, something the male ego finds troublesome. Similarly his responsibility did not compete on a level playing field with hers, since she held her Registered Nursing "degree" over his head, as her accomplishment that would always trump his refusal to attend Dental School when she offered to work as a nurse in Toronto and "put him through" in effect pay the freight.
Competition between man and woman, in our house, produced a consistent, predictable and tragic outcome: she won, he lost and he retreated from further engagement into passive aggressive patterns that presumably drove her mad.
And like Jim Stark looking for role models of masculinity, Stark finding one in officer Ray at the local police department, I also found one in the lawyer who "took me in" as a student summer employee and became my mentor, providing adult male support, counsel and advice that could not come from inside my home.
However, the thrashing and the self-doubt, and the self-loathing that was "seeded" in the garden of my youth lasted decades longer than the tonnes of raspberries that were picked from my mother's garden. And only through a persistent determination to say "No!" to various and deeply hurtful public admonishments, "targeting" and "bringing down" episodes, designed and delivered by individuals and groups who were well aware they were unable to penetrate my armour, I have, after half a dozen decades, relented somewhat to those attacks, without ever letting my guard completely down.
I still determine to locate and to envisage all the escape routes from whatever situation I might find myself in. I still listen as carefully as one who cannot read and overcompensates with listening, to all the signals that could and would impale me on their sharp tentacles and flag those signals as potentially destructive. I still, on the other side, admire and fantasize about the risks others take, in the spirit and the hope that they might achieve their accomplishment without bringing themselves down, as did Silken Laumen, the Canadian Olympic rower, who, when she was 500 meters from her first "gold medal"  and leading her closest opponent, told herself that she was not worthy of winning, and finished second. She too suffered the ignominy of a troubled mother, hers throwing plates and threatening to "gas" the family any day, while mine assaulted both my father and me with her invectives and me with her dowel of a discarded rolling pin, on the shoulders, the arms the legs, if and when I provoked her anger and her disappointment  and her embarrassment, adding more fuel to an already burning layer of embers that has still not been fully extinguished inside my being.
I need to watch "Rebel without a cause" a few more times, for the mining of relevant nuggets of you too?

Friday, January 24, 2014

Small breezes of the reality of global warming and climate change...where it matters

Reports that Coca-Cola is facing water shortages in India, Nike's facing cotton shortages in its far-eastern factories, and substituting synthetic materials in its products, the World Economic Forum and the World Bank spending real time and energy focused on the impact of climate change and global warming....these are very good, if very late, signs of hope. Even some private wealth, under the tutelage of prominent Republican and Democratic economic advisers, is being dedicated to the study of climate change, while economists from some of the top universities are beginning to convince their colleagues of the science of climate change. These are all signs that industry and "thought leaders" are outpacing the legislators on this issue.
Of course, the corporate magnates like soda and sportswear remain primarily focussed on their bottom line, but when that is threatened, they start to pay attention to the causes of shrinkage in their profits.
Sadly both the oil and coal industries and their executives, along with the politicians whose careers and reputations are married to these industries, are not catching the "fever" and clearly, in countries like China and India, where fossil fuels are feeding economies in which the elimination of poverty for millions trumps the long-term impact of CO2 emissions.
However, if this "elephant in the room" that has been the subject of public debate and denial for decades, is now being brought out of its closet, perhaps the lagging legislators will be forced to see the dangers and enact laws to generate a carbon tax. Sadly, and ironically, while these little green shoots of new life and growth and positive change are emerging from the political greenhouses where ideas are incubated, the European Union, once the leader in adopting measures to combat climate change and global warming, is cutting back on those measures, just when it seems that the scale is tipping toward an attitude that at least takes the threat seriously in  board rooms, and even in upscale cocktail parties among the corporate elite.
Of course, Canada and its government, is so enmeshed with the oil industry's fixation on the extraction of fossil fuels that our currency has become fundamentally a petro-dollar. It is not incidental to note that neither the  Liberal nor the New Democrats are providing the public debate with scientific evidence that would force the government to change course, based on a surge in public opinion. Neil Young notwithstanding, the rock star who has just completed a cross-country tour raising funds for the legal battles of the First Nations whose lives have been and will be impacted by further development of the tar sands oil project, this country's newspapers and television news rooms are not spending much time or energy "leaning forward" on the government and the fossil fuel industry. We are, instead, picking at the fringes, once again, attempting to deliver stronger skins on the tanker cars that carry dangerous substances like crude oil across our miles of railway tracks, without endangering the communities through which these cars pass, and occasionally (as in Lac Megantic in Quebec) tear the heart and soul, as well as dozens of lives, out of the community when their brakes fail, and the train becomes a run-away monster just careening into its own implosion.
Shakespeare once wrote, giving the line to Brutus in Julius Caesar, as final plans are laid for the murder of Caesar, that has been borrowed many times, in reference to many different situations:
Brutus:There is a tide in the affairs of men.
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.

Clearly, we are not at the "flood" stage in the public debate that supports legislative, corporate and social actions, policies, regulations and even laws that are dedicated to the prevention of the other "flood" that will result from global warming and climate change, if we do not act.
But there are at least signs of a rising consciousness among the people with the most clout, perhaps the only clout that matters in politics, those with the fat bank accounts, that we must do something to push back against the threats that take so many potential forms, to the lives and livelihoods of millions.
To borrow from Earle Birney, 'will (we) wake up before its too late?"...

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Reflections on being human today....

Recently I have read some observations about how the trajectory of American history is "progressive" and because of that, any who are worried about the current space of conservative policies and ideological threats from the "right" can relax, taking a longer view.
Also recently, I have learned that, although the U.S. Supreme Court has "ended" life sentences without parole for juvenile offenders, Florida, for one state, has found a "legal" way around the ban by imposing sentences on fourteen and fifteen year-old young men of seventy, eighty, or even ninety years without parole, effectively imposing a "life sentence" without parole, without contravening the Supreme Court's decision.
It was president Clinton who was and will likely be for history, condemned for his parsing of the word "yes" in his unlikely and unsustainable defence in the Monica Lewinsky assignation.
And while academic historians, thought leaders and even ordinary people take positions on all questions that range from the uber-conservative to the uber-progressive, and while we (the collective world community "we") are learning much about many features of the human being,  and also many insights into the world around us including its physics, its sociology, its chemistry, its biochemistry, its technology, its geology, its astrophysics, its connectivity on both a psychic and a technological level, our own collective capacity for personal and community growth, (however that abstraction may be defined in various geographic and cultural quarters) as well as our own capacity to create and to generate new working models for research and ultimately for enhancement of human life....we are, at the same time, increasingly conscious of just how little we actually do know.
We are also conscious of what a monumental effort is required for anyone to become expert in a single field, any single field, and that while we may acquire some proficiencies in a specific area, we are also expected to engage on a wider, more encompassing and increasingly exposed public stage. While collectively, and perhaps even for some individually, we have "learned" more than our ancestors knew about a specific human disease, for example, and while we have compiled libraries of intellectual theses about all human activities, including war, and geopolitical relationships, and theories about the existence of a deity, and about discoveries in the lives of the smallest and the largest creatures to have existed, as well as attempts to draw the timeline of human history on the planet, with respect to the level of our learnings as compared with the many universes yet undiscovered, we are, metaphorically, still in our infancy.
We, however, behave in many cases, as if we have mastered all we need to know, especially if the skill we have acquired has relatively large pay-offs in income and status terms even if that skill is being declared obsolete by those currently engaged in the academic pursuit of similar skills that we acquired in our early adult life.
The pace of our collective discoveries far outstrips our collective adaptation to the implementation of their implications of those discoveries.
We know, for example, that life sentences without parole for adolescents is counterintuitive, in terms of prevention, and in terms of social cost for the obvious reasons that it deprives an "undeveloped" individual from rehabilitation, while merely satisfying a regional society's need for vengeance, a word that too often is defined as "justice".
In all our "intellectual dominion" we continue to wrap words and meanings in packaging that makes our discoveries, both pleasing and tragic, into saleable conceptions, for the purpose of making those discoveries palatable to others, especially as a function of the public discourse, leading ultimately to the writing and passage of laws that people are expected to follow, or to suffer the "consequences" as determined by official investigations, due process legal proceedings and eventual sentences based on those collective and cultural "norms" we have collectively, and sometimes arbitrarily imposed.
In fact, various forms of "governance" range from more collective decisions to many fewer collective and many more tyrannical decisions imposed by a small group or even by an individual, elected or appointed, or even one who has grabbed power through some military or  illicit means, such as an outright purchase of a political vacuum.
So simultaneously, we humans are, as Rollo May reminded us, both subject and object of all of our lives...we live and breath and learn and discover and reflect on those discoveries, both triumphal and tragic in which we have been engaged, while at the same time recognizing that we are part of many larger and less influenced "arcs" of development in many fields, only glimpses of which do we grasp, leaving many of the finer details to others in whom our ancestors have placed a degree of trust and we have, for the most part, followed their example of trust in the "experts" in so many fields.
However, it is the collision of our collective acquisition of mountains of new insights, at supersonic speeds, with our individual and collective perceptions of eroding reasons for that collective trust in both other individuals and especially in our formerly reliable and trustworthy institutions, all represented by fragile and fallible human beings, that results in our having to acknowledge and find new ways of meeting, addressing and languaging our various "elephants" in the room, and failing in the process in that endeavor.
I received a phone call from an aspiring political candidate recently, seeking my support in his bid for a nomination to a political party's endorsement in an upcoming election. When  I asked him what issues were of particular importance to his candidacy, he answered that he thought there were two elephants in the room, climate change and income inequality that required addressing. A third issue in which he expressed his interest was the rising cost of government, especially in health care.
The "elephant in the room" analogy has become so readily accepted and used in political discourse, in the last decade or so, that one has to wonder if we have not almost unconsciously allowed ourselves and our collective culture to slide into a state of "addiction" from which the concept is derived. Alcoholics, drug dependent individuals are those who struggle with denial, especially the denial that accompanies their dependence on these chemical substances each of which thereby gains control of their lives, requiring determined and not-too-gentle interventions to be brought under "control"...
Is it actually true that climate change and income disparity have become our "elephants in the room" as this candidate expressed them?
Have we become so dependent on our collective "elephant" addiction and denial?
Or, have we merely found contemporary words of judgement with which to judge and sentence our political class, in order to find our place in the psychedelic landscape the colours of which have so blurred our capacity to see, or to see adequately into the multiple nuances and influence of such a complex and intransigent political knot, that we have so far been unable to untangle and to resolve with specific political approaches?
Or, have we grown, instead, dependent on a collective and individual life that resists the rather large changes to our "hedonism" that confronting the demon of climate change as well as the monster of income disparity would require? And so instead, we grasp at the most minute piece of information that hints at our willingness and our capacity to face these "elephants" and to overcome our resistance to their potentially lethal implications, calling our desperate grasp "the news of the day" that feeds our fading hope that we will indeed find the will and the resources to sustain our attempts to reduce the impact of such threats.
Or, have we simply adopted a lexicon of the apocalypse, including the "elephant" analogy or metaphor as our way of shining a light on what we all know we are failing to address effectively, and the real elephant in the room is our own powerless, or the perception  of powerlessness?
And if the latter is even partially true, then we have a larger problem than that posed by both climate change and income disparity...and that is to address our identity politically, intellectually culturally, even spiritually in order to re-acquire both the confidence and the trust first in our own perceptions of our capacity to influence events, and then in our capacity to extend that trust to others in our communities whose responsibilities include leadership in our institutions.
And while "spring" movements are spreading through the streets of Kiev, Cairo, and other cities around the world, there are also bullets and missiles careening through the streets of Aleppo and Damascus, that many might perceive are disconnected from their personal lives...and that disconnect is one we cannot collectively or individually tolerate any longer.
When the world connected only through the latest ship docking in our port, bringing the latest news and information about how the other "half" lives, we could legitimize our detachment. Today, we no longer have that luxury, nor that freedom from the responsibility that attends to "our brother's keeper" because, we have now become "our brother's keeper" to the people in every corner of the planet...simply because  we know what is happening to them through the abuses of power expressed in actions of infamy which defy "classification" as just another "elephant"...these are people just like us, millions of whom are fleeing despots, and then starving in the wilderness of lands foreign to them, with people who have "taken them in" without knowing how they were going to feed, cloth or shelter them.
And all of our intellectual and scientific and academic pursuits, while necessary and important, must not even be deployed as our method of denial of our collective and individual responsibility for these desperate people, each of whose lives could be ours, except for mere accidents of history.
If we are not "united" with the most abused, and the most rejected, then we condemn them to their fate, without hope of relief, including all the 2000 adolescents currently serving life sentences in U.S. prisons without the hope or the promise of parole.
We must all work to assure our grandchildren that the arc of history takes no additional victims in its long march to freedom and equality, and justice without vengeance.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Questions we're pondering....what are yours?

Is it a real, substantive, potentially productive conference to end the Syrian civil war that is taking place in Switzerland this week?
Is there a real threat to the peace and security of athletes and visitors to the Sochi Olympics?
Will the people of Israel and the people of Palestine ever rise above their respective "traumas" acknowledge their complicity as both victims and oppressors and move forward?
Will the Sunni Islamic terrorists ever sit down at the same table with their Shia Islamic "brothers" both to find a common front and to put down their bombs and their Kalashnikov's and their enmity?
Will the political class in North America wake up to its own complicity in the increasing poverty, unemployment and income gap between the 99% and the richest 1% of which they play a pivotal role?
Will the current second round of negotiations to end the pursuit of nuclear weapons by Iran generate anything close to a verified and sustainable commitment, given the trigger-happy 59 U.S. Senators of both parties to impose additional and more stringent sanctions on Iran?
Will the protesters in Kiev who seek a closer relationship with the European Union, and increased detachment from the Russian sphere of influence succeed in their move to oust the current president of the Ukraine, without provoking increased repression from their own leaders, and deeper interventions into their affairs by Moscow?
Will the 'free' internet, commonly referred to as "internet neutrality," be able to survive following the Federal Court's striking down the concept, and succumbing to the arguments of the large internet corporations whose sole motive in their own profit?
Has the "fog of war" become the principal actor, the protagonist, in the modern cultural drama in which all discussions, debates and negotiations adopt "rules of engagement" approximating the battlefield? The "fog" seems to give license to and the expectation of  deceptions, the misrepresentations, bribes, attacks from the rear, overt narcissistic, neurotic needs to avenge all wrongs at all costs, by all people of differing ideological, religious, economic, and cultural persuasions.
Has the triumph of the dollar trumped the infamous "triumph of the will" of the Third Reich?
Has Leni Riefenstahl  become the new prophet of the Fox Television Network?
Has Ayn Rand's virtue of selfishness become the new theology of the corporate/political elite?
Have Bernard Shaw, and David Lewis, Harold Wilson, Tommy Douglas, Allan Blakeney, Roy Romanov and Stephen Lewis been reduced to mere manikins in the museums of history?
Is George Orwell no longer relevant because Stalin has died?
Has Aldous Huxley become just another bust on a library shelf collecting dust?
Is the only encounter with poetry for most the most recent I-Pad commercial?
Will there ever be a government bill to provide funds for experiments like the one in Westminster Vermont, under the tutelage of Lisa Bianconi, for angry, abused and displaced kids, whose numbers will swell into a tsunami as the disparity of hope and opportunity continues to grow?*
Will education, parenting, and the shared responsibility for those tasks ever be permitted to move from the "family pages" to the front pages, as a central issue in all political discourse?
Will health care policy, budgeting and political discourse ever shift from the management of illness to the pursuit of wellness, as an integral component of the need to reduce costs, in an aging demographic?
Will First Nations wisdom, vision and connection to the "earth" in all its original abundance ever be accepted as a guiding light in the darkness of world capitals?
Can this space become a tablet of sparks shedding a little light in the dark forest of the night?

*By Michelle Miller, CBS News, January 20, 2014
Westminster, Vt. - For the first time ever at next Sunday’s Grammy’s, a teacher will be honored with a new award: The Music Educator Award.
One of the nominees is Lisa Bianconi, who has been teaching for nearly 30 years at Kurn Hattin School. The school is a fresh start for children from across the Northeast who have had trouble at home and school.
“They are kids who have been abused and neglected,” Bianconi told CBS News. “They come in here really angry and… the first thing they say is I don't do music."
One of those children was 12-year-old Emembet Stott, an orphan from Ethiopia who was adopted by an American family but said she never fit in.
"I came here with an attitude: 'Now I don't want to be here,'" said Stott. "I was so beaten down, I was so insecure. I didn't know if I should open up. Ms. Bianconi, she talked to me."
Stott added: “The fact that she was right there and listened to me... I don't even know how to explain it. She felt like the mother I never had."
For Bianconi, giving up is not an option.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

OXFAM: $110 trillion (half world's wealth) held by 1%; 85 richest people control $1.7 trillion

Martin Luther King Jr., one of the icons of North American race relations during the 20th century, nevertheless, could not escape the determined surveillance of people like Edgar Hoover, then head of the FBI, for his personal indiscretions and for his potentially "communist" associations.
Hoover, of course, also hated the Kennedy's and collected intelligence on both John and Bobby, both of whom recognized that, should they ever 'cross' Hoover, he would release his "dirt" and bring them down.
And in the middle of that kind of scurrilous and state interference in the lives of these men, civil rights legislation was able to be passed, although it took until after the Kennedy assassination (1964) under President Johnson, to get it passed.
And then, barely a few years later, King himself was shot in the decade of the assassinations (JFK and RFK) in the country that has no bounds on its dependence on weapons.
King's legacy, however, needs to be re-focussed on his core passion, "poverty" given the regression that has occurred since his death in the income disparity between American rich and the growing poor.
Yesterday, for example, Oxfam released a study just prior to the World Economic Forum's meeting in Davos, Switzerland, that pointed out this glaring and shameful piece of information:
85 of the richest people in the world hold as much wealth as the bottom 3 billion people together.
What's more, in too many of the "developed" countries, tax laws have been relaxed on the rich, making it possible for them to grow even more wealthy.
Here is an excerpt from the CBC website on the Oxfam report:
The richest 85 individuals in the world hold wealth equal to that owned by the poorest half of the planet's population, according an Oxfam report.

Oxfam’s report, titled Working for the Few, was published ahead of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, and urges the group to take measures to reduce growing inequality.

“Widening inequality is creating a vicious circle where wealth and power are increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few, leaving the rest of us to fight over crumbs from the top table,” Winnie Byanyima, Oxfam’s executive director, said in a press release.
Oxfam claims that since the late '70s tax rates for the world’s richest people have fallen in 29 or 30 countries for which details are available.

In addition, the wealthy hide about $21 trillion US in unrecorded and offshore accounts out of reach of governments, the report claimed.
"Wealthy elites have co-opted political power to rig the rules of the economic game, undermining democracy and creating a world where the 85 richest people own the wealth of half of the world's population," Oxfam claimed.
It estimates that half the world’s wealth, $110 trillion US is held by just one per cent of the population, while the 85 richest control $1.7 trillion. (CBC News website, January 20, 2014)
While the U.S. celebrates the right to vote for African Americans, a right that is being eroded in many states, the world, including the U.S. perhaps even led by the U.S. has slipped farther into the abyss of the control of the wealthy, a scathing rejection of the principal goal of the American civil rights leader, Martin Luther King Jr. who would undoubtedly be appalled by such developments, both on the civil rights front and on the poverty front.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Harper in the Holy what end?

The $66 million "bone" thrown today to the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, by Prime Minister Harper during his highly trumpeted trip to the Holy Land, but more particularly to Israel, will do nothing to dissuade world opinion that Harper has thrown the full weight of the Canadian government on the side of Israel, and against the Palestinians, in any attempt to reconcile the enmity that divides the two recalcitrants.
Calling any criticism of Israel for the existing conflict between Israel and Palestine "anti-Semitic" while clearly distinguishing the comment from criticism of Israeli government policies, Harper begs the question as to whether any criticism of the Palestinians for that same conflict would be considered "anti-Islamic" in a Harper world view.
Canada should not be sending a "boy" in terms of international relations into the world where men and women much more seasoned and mature, and not incidentally far more intellectually nuanced, on both sides of the impasse have spent their whole lives struggling with the creation of a Jewish state, and then with the terms that could conceivably bring about a cessation, or perhaps more realistically of reduced incidents of the imprisonment of each other's soldiers, of missile strikes going both ways, of proxy conflicts of the kind, (for example initiated by Hezbollah under Iran's tutelage and funding against Israel), and on talks focused on the question of the termination of the Israeli nuclear arsenal, or at least the honest acknowledgement of its existence, as part of both the problem (thanks to the U.S.) and also its disclosure as a potential part of the solution. These men and women have also searched in vain so far to find mutually agreeable terms on the future status of Jerusalem and the future of Jewish settlements on the West Bank. Harper's far from subtle and blatantly self-serving words and actions could conceivably come back to bite him and the Conservatives in 2015.
Determining a level of trust in the Iranian regime, for example, has become one of the litmus tests for many countries, both those opposed to her development of nuclear weapon capability, and those who support her pursuit of such status. Canada, playing the Israel card, (largely considered to be  for the purpose of garnering the Jewish vote in 2015 by many back in Canada) while closing our embassy in Teheran and sending Iranian diplomats home from Ottawa, will be one of the first to call for increased sanctions should Iran falter in her commitment to live by the terms of the agreement being hammered out in Switzerland.
(UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's invitation  to Iran to attend at least the first day of talks to attempt to resolve the civil war in Syria may derail those talks, given the Syrian rebels' talk of refusing to attend if Iran appears. The U.S. has indicated that it believes Iran does not qualify to attend, unless and until it expresses full agreement with the original document that began the process, and Iran has stated unequivocally that she will only attend if there are no pre-existing, contingent conditions. That invitation may already have sent a "fox-among-the-chickens" on the negotiations over the Iranian nuclear capacity, which seemed to be headed in the right direction with Iran's having stopped all enrichment to the 20% level, as part of her commitment to the initial, if partial agreement of a few weeks ago.)
(UPDATE: 1/21/14 The UN invitation to Iran has been withdrawn, and the Syrian rebels have indicated their intention to attend the Geneva conference later this week.)
Clearly, Harper has thrown the weight of the Canadian government on the side of Israel, and in the process has declared 9/11 as the signal "that we are all on the Israeli side, in the conflict with radical Islam. While many people around the world worry, as do we, about the threat posed by the Islamic terrorists to all countries including Canada, surely that radical Islamic scourge can and will be opposed and perhaps even eliminated by countries whose foreign policy does not tip wholly into the Israeli camp, given that there will be considerable need for countries and their leaders to balance the interests of legitimate Palestinian aspirations with those of Israel and the Jewish people in any process that concludes with a peace agreement between Israel and Palestine.
Nuance, ambiguity, negotiation, and a process which is premised on the promise and hope and belief in the establishment of trust, through various stages of trial and error, seem a much more realistic and probable process than one which tips the balance in favour of one of the principals prior to the real commencement of deep and complex negotiations in good faith.
Many even in Israel do not hold to Netanyhu's positions on many of the important and negotiable items in a check-list of outstanding issues between Israel and Palestine. Does Harper factor that quotient in his calculus? Does he also factor in the historic role played by Canada in helping support any negotiations that were focused on a resolution of the dispute? Have the Islamic terrorists now in effect set the course of Canadian foreign policy on Israel, merely because they are a violent threat to the world's Judao-Christian heritage and culture and tradition? That gives them a lot of power that even they probably would not have anticipated. One has to wonder what they will do with that realization.

Sochi Olympics unlikely to escape Islamic terror, in spite of Iron Ring

If there ever was any doubt that the whole world faces one of the most scurrilous and most dangerous and most elusive enemies in recent memory, the phrase "innocent Muslim blood" has to be a wake-up call even to those who have spent the last decade-plus in some intellectual, psychological and political cave somewhere deep in their  own personal Zanadu. The phrase appears in the video released by the Chechyan Islamic terrorists who perpetrated their terror twice on Volgograd last month, as reported by The Associated Press in the National Post, excerpted here.
An Islamic militant group in Russia’s North Caucasus claimed responsibility Sunday for twin suicide bombings in the southern city of Volgograd last month and posted a video threatening to strike the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
There had been no previous claim of responsibility for the bombings, which killed 34 people and heightened security fears before next month’s Winter Games.
In the video, two Russian-speaking men warned President Vladimir Putin that “If you hold these Olympics, we will give you a present for the innocent Muslim blood being spilled all around the world: In Afghanistan, in Somalia, in Syria.”
They added that “for the tourists who come, there will be a present, too.”
(By Lynn Berry, The Associated Press, in National Post, January 19, 2014)
Reports from U.S. Congressional representatives attempting to merge American security initiatives with those of the Russian authorities indicate that they are personally very concerned that, in spite of the many dollars and considerable preparations made by Putin and the Russian security apparatus, both athletes and visitors from around the world will not be safe in Sochi in February.
So much angst is attached to these Olympics that they have become known as the "Gulag Olympics"...
Asked yesterday, "If I had a son or daughter competing at Sochi, what would I do?" I replied, "I would be torn by two equally sad options: to accompany that son or daughter to Russia and risk the danger together or to ask that the trip be cancelled, for security reasons." Of course, all athletes who have spent their last three or four years, or for some even more, and thousands if not millions of dollars in rigorous and disciplined training in preparation for their personal and their country's honour of achievement and recognition through sports, the last frontier to have mostly escaped ideological and political violence. (Berlin being one of the more visible exceptions in recent memory!)
Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison, the lone Muslim member of the U.S. Congress, was, on the same Sunday morning of the release of the terrorist video from Russia, being hosted and feted on many U.S. talk shows, almost as a trophy Muslim, demonstrating that the U.S. is not at war with Islam. Here are some notes from bio.true story, on his biography:
His election was not without controversy, however. Some critics claimed that he held the same anti-Semitic views as Louis Farrakhan, the leader of the Nation of Islam, a religious, social, and political organization often known for its radical views. This allegation was based on an article he wrote during law school and his work as an organizer for the 1995 Million Man March, which was created by Farrakhan. Ellison has denied this claim.
Before his swearing-in ceremony, Ellison announced that he would use the Koran, the Muslim holy book, instead of the traditional Bible. He found himself in the middle of a religious firestorm, receiving criticism from conservative politicians and journalists as well as many other American citizens.
Ellison's latest book, My Country 'Tis of Thee, is being released this week, and according to reports champions many of the same causes that are ascribed to centrist or left-leaning Democrats.
Nevertheless, the whole world is being challenged to adjust to a new kind of religious reality, posed primarily by representatives of Islam, that both states and incarnates a belief that politics and religion are one, that one's faith has to be part of one's political agenda, something the U.S. has fought many political battles to oppose from its origins.
 At the centre of the political agenda of many Muslims is an unabashed and dangerous contempt for Jews and for the state of Israel, reaching all the way from a modest acknowledgement of the existence of the state of Israel, to public statements calling for her being 'wiped off the map of the world'. Another apparent cornerstone of Islam is the relationship between the men and women, apparently attempting to preserve and protect the notion of  male dominance over females, reaching in some cases to laws that prevent women from working in public or even going into the public square without a male family member accompanying her, and to body and face coverings, presumably premised on a different kind of fear, of male "testosterone" gone amuck. Another fixture of Islam, especially among radicals, is the imposition of Sharia Law, in exclusively Islamic-governed states, as, for example, the Islamic State of Syria and Iraq, currently being pursued vigorously and violently by Islamic terrorists linked to and affiliated with, AlQaeda, primarily in Anbar province in western Iraq.
Whether the Islamic world can present to the rest of the world some unified face that includes peaceful relations with all people of all faiths including no faith, and can live in harmony with established nations and political ideologies that attempt to keep the church out of matters of the state, is still a very open question, the answer to which is not being fostered, encouraged or even promised by those millions of Islamic radicals who continue to inflict their poison on the rest of the world.
The fact that Russia, and especially Putin, consider Sochi to be an exclusive "Russian show" thereby resisting attempts to assist in the fight and security precautions for the Sochi Olympics brings Russian nationalism and Russian hubris into direct and open conflict with the reality that the whole world is, for the period of the Olympics, living 'in the Russian house' and needing, if only for peace of mind, the best protection the world can offer.
It is, however, becoming increasingly doubtful that  the Sochi Olympic Games will not be marred, if not completely disrupted by these Chechyan thugs who want to establish an Islamic state in their part of the Caucusus. And while the world will recover from such a debacle, there will be innocent lives lost, others injured and a black mark on both Russia's and Putin's "eye" will last well beyond the current president's lifetime. Putin's claims to 'doing whatever it takes' to keep the games safe is no guarantee of the safety and security of the athletes and visitors to the games. Other countries like the United States' attempts to bolster those security initiatives, including FBI and NSA operatives inside the Iron Ring that Putin has built around the area where the games are schedules, notwithstanding, the Sochi Olympics could well also give a black eye to the Olympic movement whose ideals and history continue to shine, in spite of the rust that gathers on many other public institutions around the globe.
I guess I would have to answer my questioner from yesterday this way, after all: "I do not believe that the life of my son or daughter( as a hypothetical Olympic athlete) can or should be sacrificed on the altar of the radical Islamic cause if we can prevent that from happening, and I would respectfully submit the position that our family boycott these games, even if our nation's other athletes are prepared to compete."

Saturday, January 18, 2014

National Security under a different lens, prompted by Obama's speech

Remarks of President Barack Obama
Results of our Signals Intelligence Review
January 17, 2014 in Washington DC
from, January 17, 2014
This brings me to program that has generated the most controversy these past few months – the bulk collection of telephone records under Section 215. Let me repeat what I said when this story first broke – this program does not involve the content of phone calls, or the names of people making calls. Instead, it provides a record of phone numbers and the times and lengths of calls – meta-data that can be queried if and when we have a reasonable suspicion that a particular number is linked to a terrorist organization.
Why is this necessary? The program grew out of a desire to address a gap identified after 9/11. One of the 9/11 hijackers – Khalid al-Mihdhar – made a phone call from San Diego to a known al Qaeda safe-house in Yemen. NSA saw that call, but could not see that it was coming from an individual already in the United States. The telephone metadata program under Section 215 was designed to map the communications of terrorists, so we can see who they may be in contact with as quickly as possible. This capability could also prove valuable in a crisis. For example, if a bomb goes off in one of our cities and law enforcement is racing to determine whether a network is poised to conduct additional attacks, time is of the essence. Being able to quickly review telephone connections to assess whether a network exists is critical to that effort.
When a super-power can be, and has been, attacked by some radical, racist, bigoted thugs, to the level of 9/11when some 3000 innocent people died and thousands of other innocents remain scarred for life, in the name of and to the glory of Allah, and when that super-power has to respond at the level of trawling on the world-wide-web, including the tracking of billions, if not trillions of individual phone calls, e-mails and all other digitally facilitated communications, in order to prevent or anticipate a repeat attack, we have to be careful not to fall into the traditional "david-goliath" archetype in our conventional response. A sling-shot felled a behemoth, who, following the research of Malcolm Gladwell, was nearly blind, quite crippled and virtually unprepared for the kind of duel that David presented with his single stone, from a distance, and not an "armed combat" in the traditional (at that time) method of settling disputes.
Bankrupting the American treasury, following in the footsteps of a long tradition of the highest military spending for all countries for all of history by generating another bureaucratic monster in parallel to the Pentagon, Homeland Security Department/National Security Agency (on top of the already sizeable FBI and CIA), while forcing a public debate on the requisite balance between security and privacy, renders the U.S. susceptible to the notion of stubbing its monstrous "toe" on the human divide of "turf wars" within the various, competing and siloed agencies.
For example, (and there are too many of these!) the FBI has an outpost less than one mile from the American Consulate in Benghazi in which four American diplomats, including Ambassador Chris Stevens, were killed by terrorists; yet the FBI had not communicated their "existence or their proximity"  to the State Department. Consequently, those diplomats were left "hanging in the wind" when they needed protection from their country's resources. (It is also true that Stevens himself rejected U.S. security protection, preferring instead to hire and retain Libyan operatives, clinging to his "get close to the people" approach to his ambassadorship.)
As a Democrat, Obama is susceptible to the traditional Democratic notion that government, by its sheer size, complexity and omnipresence can provide the best "protection" on both fronts of national security and personal privacy. However, bigness is, and has been in too many historical moments, a fatal flaw in the thinking of individuals, corporations and nation states. Just because one (person, organization, agency or even country)  is big, powerful in the hard-power definition of the word "powerful", heavily financed and ornately wrapped in high-blown legal language, does not make it safe from that single stone that felled the behemoth Goliath. Similarly, as we witness the fastest and most disturbing growth in income of those already most wealthy among us, (plus economic, tax and social policies that would feed that "monster" through the co-dependence of the political class who view such growth as the holy grail) as a culture we are in serious danger of becoming sycophant to that idol.
It has national and international implications, when we see that the pursuit of profit (and all the extrinsic measures of that profit) trump social policies like extended benefits to the unemployed, single-payer health care, kindergarten for all children, job re-training, Food Stamps and homelessness. When a metastasizing tumor-of-terror like the Al-Qaeda "derivatives" can accomplish a level of fear in a proud and powerful and 'intelligent' and industrious and creative and innovative "leader" on the international stage, as it already has with the U.S. determined as it is to prevent any repeat of 9/11, then one has to wonder if the terrorists have not already accomplished their mission.
Cancer victims, we are told repeatedly, do not let cancer define their existence; otherwise it wins, even though the termination date may be extended for a few months or even years. Of course, medical analogies, the political class would be quick to remind us, do not apply to the Islamic terror threat to national security and the narrative to defend against it.
Has the United States fallen victim to the "cancer now defines us" mentality, perception and attitude?
Having 'created' the internet, and subsequently the deeper and more encrypted "deep internet" through which criminals, terrorists and those who operate exclusively on the dark side can and do conduct their 'business' in secrecy with impunity and immunity from detection and prosecution, is the United States falling victim to its own hubris?
A major speech by the president, so deemed by the White House, on the operations of the National Security Agency and its future 'containment' that does not even mention the "deep internet" and the far greater security implications of another of the "weapons" the U.S. has developed for its own protection seems to be vacuous public relations, or once again manipulating at the fringes, in order to calm the 'natives' who have grown restless with the headlines that their phone calls and e-mails have been compromised. It may be necessary, but it hardly contains a full disclosure even of the paradigm of the deep internet, let alone the fine print of its dangerous, and out-of-control gallop, given that even those who designed the creature cannot bring it to heel.
We see that it was the United States who originally supplied Saddam Hussein with weapons of mass destruction back in the 1980's, only to have a different United States administration inflict a military strike of massive proportions against the potentially dangerous deployment of those weapons by that same tyrant and former ally. We also see that the largest single player in the international weapons market, both above board and illicit, is the United States, with their weapons falling inevitably and invariably into the hands of those whose have become their enemies. Supplying Prime Minister Maliki in Iraq with weapons to fight the Islamic terrorists in Anbar province, following their capture of both Fallujah and Ramadi, will see those same weapons being used against Maliki's forces in that very region. So, one has to wonder how effective such "support" really is from the Americans, except as a public relations  "show" for the reputation of the United States, that it is actually engaged in Maliki's struggles.
Rather than build more and  bigger and more complicated "weapons-and-intelligence systems" to defend the people of the United States against the real and dangerous threats of sabotage from terrorists, as well as from cyber-enemies like China, one has to ask whether the people of the United States, as well as the rest of the global population would not be more secure if and when the United States could and would come clean with the full truth of its misplaced frightened and potentially and ironically most-likely-to-backfire "overprotection" through the design and implementation of extrinsic symbols of hard power.
"But," you say, as does the president, "National Security has to operate in secrecy in order to be effective so that proposal would be naïve and self-sabotaging, not to mention extremely adolescent!"
To which I rebut, "I had not noticed that Goliath was "protected" by his size and superior weaponry, given that David would not and did not engage him on "his" terms.
The terrorists have not, do not, and will not engage any of the major powers of the world "on their terms" and it would seem that the major powers continue to rely on, even grow their "traditional terms" of engagement, including the most sophisticated technologies of both weaponry and digital invasion. As the president acknowledged, those who operate these systems will always seek to expand their capacity and therefore must be reigned in by oversight.
Would the same perception and principle not also apply to the nation whose interests are at stake in this conflict?
Is the country itself not in danger of falling victim to its own ambition to self-aggrandize, for its own sake, because it provides a veneer, a dramatic "show" of protection, while the truth telling and the vulnerability, or to put it another way, the simplicity of a David, is not "becoming" to a super-power?
Many issues, and certainly national security is one prime example, are now couched in terms of being "highly complex" and "having multiple variables with multiple competing interests". Therefore the resolution of these many issues is presented and seen as highly unlikely because to find the compromise that balances the competing interests, while preserving the "face" of the nation, that all-important hubris again, is or is deemed to be "out-of-reach" of those responsible for the compromise.
In a highly ideological political climate, that demonstrates simultaneously a clinging to the "talking points" of that ideology and a pretense to "work together" with the other side, it is little wonder that such a predictable oscillation will generate few if any "end results." Similarly, a different oscillation that holds fast to the "protection of privacy" while all the while galloping into a world controlled by the technology that is outstripping both legislation and the human capacity to control that technology will only produce more political rhetoric without any actual resolution, until the technology finally takes over all the levers that were previously thought to be under the control of their human designers and operators.